In Playoff Rematch, Lightning Turn Slow Start Into 8-3 Rout Of Devils

Tampa Bay rebounds from going down 2-0 in first 5:04

On Tuesday night at Amalie Arena, the Tampa Bay Lightning rebounded from a slow first five minutes with nothing short of a dominant performance, defeating the New Jersey Devils emphatically by a score of 8-3.

The Devils started fast, taking advantage of some Lightning turnovers to press the action and get a goal just over a minute in as Miles Wood tipped a Sami Vatanen shot past Andrei Vasilevskiy to get the early lead for New Jersey. The Devils kept up the early pace, extending the lead to 2-0 just 5:04 into the game as Travis Zajac got in alone against Vasilevskiy and buried his shot.

They say a two-goal lead is the most dangerous lead in hockey. The Lightning were not down for long. Braydon Coburn ripped a shot from a defensive position, only for it to seemingly deflect off of Tyler Johnson and in past Keith Kinkaid to narrow the gap to 2-1. Coburn got his second goal of the night later in the first period, waiting for his moment before ripping the equalizer past Kinkaid. It was a sign of just how dangerous the Lightning are as a hockey team. On a night where they came out early in the first a bit scattered and out of sorts, finding themselves down quickly to a talented New Jersey team, not only did Tampa Bay get up off the mat but they did so in the first period.

In the second, Tampa Bay maintained momentum and then some. 31 seconds into the period, off a furious shift to open the frame, Brayden Point collected a tap-in goal in front of a net suddenly unoccupied. A pair of power plays in the early part of the period led to two more goals, respectively from Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. Just like that, the Lightning, who had come out lethargically, were firmly in control of the hockey game and had the Devils grasping at straws.

New Jersey added a power play goal late in the second to narrow the gap to 5-3.

Depth was really what ruled the night for the Lightning. With Victor Hedman still out, along with Ondrej Palat, it was up to the Lightning to counter losses with performances by players down the roster. They got that on Tuesday night, with contributions from every line and Coburn’s big night.

In the third, the Lightning began to really pour it on, extending their lead to 8-3 on goals from Tyler Johnson, Ryan McDonagh, and Nikita Kucherov’s second of the night. After those first five minutes and change, the Lightning bounced back and then some, turning a disappointing start into a dominant game on a Tuesday night.  Brayden Point wound up leading the Lightning with five points on the night.

Devils in Eastern Conference mix once again

It was a playoff rematch in Tampa as the Devils came into town. New Jersey was the Lightning’s first opponent in the 2018 NHL Playoffs, a five-game cameo dominated by an aggressive Lightning forecheck and a Bolts team that did a good job limiting the quality of shots that New Jersey was able to produce. Of course, that Devils team was without talented defenseman Will Butcher, a strong defenseman who was hurt for the end of his rookie season after winning a Hobey Baker Award as the best player in college hockey in 2017.

The Devils also have Nico Hischier, first overall draft pick in 2017 in his second season in the NHL. Hischier, a strong centerman out of Switzerland, could form an incredibly dangerous scoring combination alongside reigning Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall.

Kucherov hit by puck

The Lightning got a scare on the eve of Halloween. Nikita Kucherov took a puck off what appeared to be his knee toward the end of the second period and spent enough time down on the ice that trainers had to come out and look.

Amazingly, Kucherov came out for the third period. He did not just play, he added a goal to his total in that third period, finishing off a beautiful play by his line. The Lightning can be relieved to see their leading scorer from last season come back and play after taking the puck to the leg, but Kucherov will certainly be monitored moving forward.

Penalty Kill Watch

The Tampa Bay penalty kill is off to a tremendous start. In their first ten games, Tampa Bay allowed just two shorthanded goals, good for 95.12%, a staggering percentage for a team that had struggled while down a man in the 2017-18 season.

Late in the first period, a contact to the head penalty for Braydon Coburn put the Bolts on the Penalty Kill for the first time. The Devils have some speedy and dynamic skaters, Taylor Hall most of all, but Tampa Bay was able to keep Hall from getting around defenders and limit the quality of looks on net the Devils were able to get.

A second Devils power play did not go so well for Tampa Bay. Cycling the puck well with the man advantage, New Jersey found Kyle Palmeiri near the left faceoff circle. The shot hit the stick of Ryan McDonagh and went in past Vasilevskiy, just the third power play goal the Lightning have allowed this season. It was a case of being taken out of position by the Devils moving the puck well, and a player being caught in the wrong place.

Tampa Bay killed off a third period penalty served by Adam Erne following a fight, but by that point statistics were essentially all that were at stake, with the score already 8-3.

Up Next For Bolts

The Tampa Bay Lightning continue their short homestand on Thursday at 7:30 as they take on the Nashville Predators in a major clash of some of the league’s best teams. The Predators come in as part of a very intense part of their schedule. While the Lightning were playing the Devils on Tuesday night, Nashville was at home facing the Vegas Golden Knights, last year’s Western Conference champions. After playing Tampa Bay, they go back home for a Saturday night clash with the Boston Bruins, another formidable squad.

The meeting between Tampa Bay and Nashville is special for another reason, as the two markets have a lot in common. The Predators’ fanbase has grown tremendously in the past few years, making them an example of how hockey in the south can truly work much the way the Lightning have been for years.

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Tim Williams has been covering sports since his days as a student at Northeastern University covering events such as the Beanpot. In the thirteen years since, he has covered college hockey, the NFL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour, and the National Hockey League. A native of the Tampa Bay area, Tim has returned home after living much of his life in the northeast, including sixteen years in the Boston area. These days the Managing Editor of Sports Talk Florida can be found on Florida's golf courses when he's not working.